Verstappen hopeful Red Bull can bridge gap with Mercedes

F1i 4/03/2017
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Max Verstappen

It was pretty much a status quo at the top of the timesheets in Barcelona this week compared with where 2016 ended, with Mercedes’ Silver Arrows still leading the pack.

But for the Milton Keynes outfit to catch up with its dominant rival, it will mostly have to rely on  engine partner Renault to do the work. And Verstappen is confidant the French manufacturer will step up to the challenge.

“For sure they (Mercedes) still will have an advantage over us in the beginning of the season, power-wise, but I think we are definitely catching up,” said the 19-year-old Dutch prodigy.

Red Bull’s workload at the Circuit de Catalunya focused mainly on reliability and car discovery, but updates are already in the works for next week, according to Verstappen.

“I think for sure the most important thing for us was trying and make mileage and seeing if all the parts were holding on. I think everything has been behaving pretty well.

“I think for us it was very positive. We’ve done quite a bit of mileage and also for me to get used to the car and also the whole team to understand the new type of car. I think we did a good job.”

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Raikkonen enjoying new Ferrari after first week of testing

F1i 3/03/2017
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Kimi Raikkonen.

The Finn was in the car on days 2 and 4, working through the Scuderia’s various aero and data programmes with few troubles overall.

“It’s normal testing and it’s been running smoothly,” said Raikkonen,

“No issues and more or less like we planned. It’s a good start, but there’s more work to be done next week.

“We wished to do more here and there, but it’s just what we managed in four days. Where we’re going to end up, we don’t know. So far it’s good.”

Beyond the feeling of satisfaction linked with a positive week of work, Raikkonen was particularly pleased with his first encounter with F1’s new regulations and the latest generation cars.

“Obviously they are different, these are quite big rule changes. There’s more grip and the cars are faster. They are different, but [the cars are] more like they used to be. I like them.”

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Six things we learned from F1's pre-season testing

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Partners in crime: Hamilton and Valtteri.

Formula One roared back into life this week for the opening pre-season test at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Here, we assess the action from Spain with a little more than three weeks to go until the season gets under way in Melbourne on March 26.

WHO HAS HAD A GOOD WEEK?

Mercedes. The sport’s dominant team has covered more ground than anyone else and posted the fastest time. The new car looks the slickest of all the new designs and has been bulletproof in its reliability, too.

Ferrari, following their lacklustre campaign last term, have also impressed. But the famous Italian constructor looked good at this stage 12 months ago and failed to deliver when the season started. Nevertheless, encouraging signs.

WHO HAS HAD A WEEK TO FORGET?

McLaren were full of optimism at the launch of their new car last week in their desperate bid to end the leanest spell in their history. But the opening day was nothing short of a disaster – Fernando Alonso completed just 29 laps owing to engine problems – and there was further trouble ahead on day two as reliability issues continued to hamper their progress.

While Alonso managed 72 laps on Wednesday he was still nearly three seconds adrift of Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes.

WHAT ABOUT ROOKIE LANCE STROLL?

McLaren can be thankful that the 18-year-old Canadian diverted some of the negative attention away from their camp. Stroll, whose rise in motorsport has been funded by his billionaire father, suffered three crashes this week.

The first restricted Williams to just 12 laps of testing on Tuesday, while the damage sustained in his final incident on Wednesday afternoon forced the British team to sit out the entire final day. Stroll is scheduled to run in just two further days of testing before the season starts later this month.

Williams' Lance Stroll crashed into a barrier during day three of the winter testing.

Lance Stroll crashed into a barrier during day three of testing.

ARE RED BULL ANY CLOSER TO MERCEDES?

On the evidence of this test, no. Reliability troubles limited their running on the opening day, and while both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen eventually got a number of laps under their belt later in the week, they appeared to be off the pace of both Mercedes and Ferrari. Expect their pace to improve however, at the final test which starts on Tuesday.

HOW DO THE CARS LOOK?

Lewis Hamilton and Alonso, who have both been critical of the sport in recent times, have given the cars the thumbs up. They certainly look better and are much faster, too.

The overhaul in regulations however, was introduced to spice up the racing, but Hamilton fears the introduction of more downforce on the cars will actually make it much harder to follow this year and lead to fewer overtakes.

Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes-AMG W08

Lewis Hamilton.

WILL THE ORDER BE DIFFERENT THIS SEASON?

Do not hold your breath. It had been hoped that Mercedes, who have won 51 of the last 59 races en route to three consecutive drivers’ and constructors’ championships, would be toppled off their perch, but after the first test that seems unlikely.

Many neutrals will be hoping that Bottas, the new man at Mercedes, will be able to provide Hamilton a stern challenge this year.

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